Jamaican Newton Marshall looking for dog-sled glory in Iditarod

James Bone, writing for London’s Times Online, looks at Jamaica’s Newton Marshall and his quest for victory and glory in the Iditarod. Here are some excerpts, with a link to the full text below.

The Jamaican bobsleigh team caused something of a sensation in 1988 when they took part in the Winter Olympics — inspiring the Hollywood film Cool Runnings. Bobsleigh, however, is child’s play compared with the Iditarod, a 1,150-mile (1,850km) dog-sled race across the icy wilderness of Alaska that is hailed as one of the world’s great endurance tests. This year, a Jamaican is vying to become the first black musher to complete the annual contest. Newton Marshall, 27, a former horseback tour guide, is the latest winter-sports hero to emerge from the Caribbean island, which sent a skier to last month’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver.  “Jamaica has had a long and distinguished history in sports, and it is heartening that a new ambassador has emerged in a non-traditional sport,” said John Lynch, director of tourism. “Jamaicans at home and abroad will be ‘Rootin for Newton’ as he seeks to place Jamaica’s name in yet another chapter in sporting history.”

“I got a great sleep last night,” Marshall said, before the official start in Willow, Alaska. “I won’t have many of those for the next two weeks, so I made sure to treasure it while I could.” After the first day of the two-week race to the old gold-rush town of Nome, on Alaska’s western shore, Marshall and his 16-dog team found themselves in a very respectable 18th place yesterday, out of 71 contestants. His improbable quest for Alaskan glory began when he was working as a horseback tour guide for Danny Melville, a partner in a Jamaican package tour operator, Chukka Caribbean Adventures. Mr Melville asked Marshall to work on a project to train Jamaican dogs to pull buggies along the sand dunes — before coming up with the seemingly madcap idea of creating a dog-sled racing team. “I had a choice to call the team the Jamaican Sled-Dog Team or the Jamaican Dog-Sled Team. I chose dog-sled because it rhymes with bob-sled. Hopefully, one day they will make a movie about the Jamaican Dog-Sled team,” Mr Melville said. He recruited his friend, Jimmy Buffett, the Margaritaville singer-songwriter, who now sponsors the team. “I just love the whole idea of it,” Buffett said. “I love the absurdity that, when we first did this, people laughed and thought it was a joke — and guess what? It isn’t.”

Marshall raced last year in the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest, finishing 13th out of 29. To prepare for the Iditarod he trained with Lance Mackey, the defending three-time champion, who has also leased him a 16-dog team. So far the Jamaican, raised in tropical swelter, has impressed Alaskans accustomed to temperatures as cold as minus 40C (minus 40F). John Anderson, a race judge, told a local television station: “He is the most relaxed guy I’ve seen going into an Iditarod. He just seems to be going with the flow.” If he makes it to the finish line, Marshall will become the first black musher to complete the Iditarod. The only other to take part was the late Barry MacAlpine, who competed in the first Iditarod in 1973 but did not finish. “We are confident he is going to finish. Newton does not give up,” Mr Melville said. “He is a tough kid. He is very, very determined.”

Find the full article at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article7054573.ece

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